Electric Cars, Drought

March 12, 2009 2 Comments

I am a big backer of battery-electric vehicles. Not so much because I am afraid AGW is going to destroy all life on earth but because of the potential for much less pollution. Pollution such as ozone and particulate matter causes health problems and it is just plain dirty. Who wants smog? Not me. For years I looked at the various alternative energy and transportation scenarios and reported on various advances. I was optimistic about several new technologies until more studies pointed toward battery-electric vehicles as the most promising option – if we want to move away from liquid hydrocarbon fuel for our transportation. Now a panel of experts who recently gathered at MIT say electric vehicles will be a long time coming – that electric vehicles will only make up a tiny percentage of cars by 2050. Pardon me while I shed a tear….

Ok, I am back and I think the “experts” are wrong. They bring up some good points, such as how old technology seems to hang on forever because of inertia. They mention how computers still use silicon transistors, even though alternatives have been worked on for a couple of decades. However, the transistors have improved dramatically so they are not really the “same”. The analogy would be if mpg increased from 20 mpg today to at least 2,000 mpg in 2050. If we get that kind-of improvement from gas cars, then we will certainly see huge improvements in pollution levels, making electric cars less needed, and we would still be better off. Also, people thought film cameras, and typewriters, and newspapers would be around forever. The first two are essentially gone and the third is disappearing rapidly. A similar thing could happen to gas powered cars at some point in the near future.

A second point they bring up is that liquid hydrocarbon fuel has a high energy density that cannot be matched by batteries (not for the foreseeable future anyway). This is a good point. If you want to travel a couple hundred miles you need an awfully big battery. However, batteries are getting better and the need to drive long distances is getting less. People could easily have an electric car for urban driving and a gas car for long distance. Just today a new battery breathrough was announced by MIT. It allows batteries to charge a lot faster. Tesla already has a battery in its sports car that allows it to travel 200 miles on a charge. Driving distance is one drawback to electric cars but there are also many advantages – it will just take the right salesperson to make the case. One thing I HATE(bold and capitalized) are the maintenance costs associated with gas cars. No muffler on an electric vehicle. No Air filter. No alternator. No starter. Hardly any belts or hoses. No carburetor. No fuel filter. The list goes on and on. Electric vehicles are quiet and they don’t pollute.

But there is one problem – electric cars are expensive. They look extra expensive in today’s economy. The electric sports cars sell for $100,000 or more.

Aptera 2e, 3 wheel electric

Aptera 2e, 3 wheel electric

The Chevy Volt is expected to retail for over $40,000. The cheapest electric “cars” I am aware of are in the $20,000 to $30,000 range. I am not sure what the Aptera 2e will retail for but the company is moving full speed ahead with production for the end of this year. Hybrids are also out of most people’s salary range (including mine). The only cheap electrics are the glorified golf carts. Hey, they work, but they just don’t feel like a real car. If I had to go electric today, I would probably purchase a conversion kit and turn one of my small cars into an electric. That is the cheapest route. So this is a stumbling block for the adoption of electric cars. However, 2050 is a long time from now and technology is going to change dramatically. We will not have linear progress. Fossil fuels will most likely get more expensive, while the price of electric cars will most likely go down.

Alternative Energy Round-up

And to power those electric vehicles we will need to develop some cleaner energy. “Clean” coal is a decent option but solar and other efforts would be better. Chinese researchers have announced a new record efficiency for cheap dye-sensitized “organic” solar cells. Solar cell producers continue to buy polysilicon even through the economic downturn (but I think this might decline a bit this year) Here is an article about the potential of hydrostatic power. This is where high pressure liquid produced in the ocean is routed to power plants onshore.

Weather Round-up

A very quiet weather pattern is setting up for our area for the next week or so. It is still cold today but a warm-up is on the way. High temps should hit the low 20s today, the low 30s on Friday, and the low to mid 40s over the weekend. By next Tuesday and Wednesday we could see the mercury rise into the mid to upper 40s. Not much precipitation is likely. Right now it looks like a slight chance of light rain or sleet on Monday and that is it. This is bad news for our drought. The latest US Drought Monitor shows a severe drought persisting in Northcentral Wisconsin. Our weather watcher Dick in Merrill says things are really bad in parts of Lincoln county. He has heard stories of swamp land drying up. I have my fingers crossed for a wet Spring. Have a good Thursday! Meteorologist Justin Loew.

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  1. Ray says:

    Justin, I always wondered about these air quality days. I go out and the air usually seems nice to me. I guess wind is one of my weather pet peeves behind cold, ice, snow.

    I do enjoy a warm breeze ( cool by comparison when it is hot out), and even like a hot wind out of the south like a natural massage, but in general find wind irritating, so I might be biased.

    It is my opinion these are another one of the over sensitive “new age” warnings. Kind of like those things on the AGW list, just another thing to get people all worried about everything. Although it is important for people with medical conditions to be warned of these problems if they bother them.

    As far as electric or other post internal combustion engine transportation. I think they will take off and become priced at a reasonable cost when the technology catches up. The first gasoline cars were cost prohibitive until they became mass produced in a cost effective way – and the value over the horse and buggy were realized.

    I love my vehicles now, but will embrace any new type as long as it does what the old ones do, more efficiently. Right now it seems the ones that fit some niche, like comparable to a small three cylinder compact car – still fail in other ways. Mostly in how far they can travel. If they are plug in, how much do they raise the electric bill, and how much pollution does the electric generation plant cause in the process? Are the batteries going to cause more pollution when they are disposed of when they wear out?

    On the drought – I am hoping for a warm but several large rain event spring, and a summer with weekly storms atleast to bring that inch per week of rain we need. It would be fantastic not to have to water the lawn, garden, and planters all year because we get enough rain from the clouds!

    Thanks again Justin, Brian and Kristen for your blog posts. Learning things about local weather is great, and personal observations from professionals in the field are really appreciated.

  2. some research into the grant programs for solar power systems in your area will help you get a sense of the how much financial assistance is available.

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